Among the Asian cities I’ve traveled to so far, it is The Lion City that has most gone out of its way to welcome visitors like me. Through the support of the Singapore Tourism Board, this island-state offers a wide array of means to see the sights. From DUCKTours to bumboat rides, any tourist with even a few hours to spare can check out the cool places and historical sites Singapore has to offer.
For travelers who wish to immerse themselves into the true SG experience, nothing beats a walking tour among its heritage spots. And one essential place for any SG walking tour would have to be Chinatown. Singapore‘s Chinatown is unique in that its middle kingdom culture has harmoniously blended in with the other ethnic groups in the small island to create a wonderful blend of Asian influences.
A good spot to start your personal exploration is right off the Chinatown MRT station along the blue line. From Exit A, visitors will immediately see Pagoda Street, so-named because of the Sri Mariamnam Temple located at its end. This festive street is bedecked with colorful red lanterns criss-crossing along its length, and packed with an assortment of Chinese shops on both sides.
A few meters into the street, one can spot Bee Cheng Hiang and Lim Chee Guan, two purveyors of bak kwa, or Chinese barbecued pork. These stores are filled with the chewy red meat, which is especially in demand during the Chinese New Year. Inside Bee Cheng Hiang is a glass wall, behind which a cook can be seen hurriedly flipping fresh meat over a grill. Fresh bak kwa can keep for two weeks, while those sealed in plastic can keep for up to 4 months without going bad.
Further along Pagoda Street is the Chinatown Heritage Centre, a museum filled with artifacts from the past. Multi-media displays, authentic vintage items, and a replica of an old Chinatown living quarter give visitors an insight into living conditions before the modern era.
At the end of Pagoda Street, one can hear the exotic blaring of trumpets sounding off at regular interval. These are coming from the Sri Mariamnam Temple, Singapore‘s oldest Indian temple. Its elaborate tower, encircled by figurines of divine beings, can already be seen halfway down the street. A good time to visit is early evening when the ceremonies are being performed and the temple devotees are making offerings. Another temple you can find here is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, along South Bridge Road. This ornate structure, dedicated to Maitreya Buddha, hosts Asiaâ€™s largest stupa (a monument dedicated to Buddha), made from 420kg of pure gold, decorated with 201 rubies and encircled by 35 statues of Buddha.
At the end of your walk, you may refresh yourself in any of the food stalls in the area. Try the egg tarts in Tong Heng bakery, the mooncakes inTai Chong Kok pastry shop, or the Fried Kway Teow found everywhere in Singapore. They taste great with coffee or milk tea, served from steaming urns at the beverage booths.
There are more sights to see in Chinatown, from the ultra-chic
Red Dot Design Museum to the calm-inducing Ann Siang Hill Park. If you are interested in a walking tour of Chinatown, the following advisory is helpful in turning your visit into a memorable adventure.
- Shopping is the primary focus of these streets, so bring lots of cash. Pagoda Street, Trengganu Street, and Sago Lane are filled with booths selling trinkets, t-shirts, and other items, which are opened from 11 am to 11 pm everyday.
- The best time to see Chinatown is during the Chinese New Year. The celebratory mood is felt weeks before the eve of the festival, when a massive countdown celebration is held. The other time is during the Mid-Autumn Festival, or the Mooncake Festival. Falling on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, itâ€™s a feast of mooncakes and lanterns.
- Wear appropriate clothing, especially if you’re thinking of entering the temples. And be mindful of your behavior, including the protocol for photograph-taking.
- There are two guided walking tours available.
Red Clogs Down the Five-Foot Way â€“ visit a Chinese temple and an ancestral worship shop, learn about herbal medicine, then experience local taste sensations.
Every Tuesday from 9:30 am to 12 noon.
Meet at Tanjong Pagar MRT Station,
Outside Exit B (Maxwell Road).
Price: SGD 25 per adult, SGD 15 per child.
Secrets of the Red Lantern â€“ for mature tourists, this night tour unveils Chinatownâ€™s seedy past, when it was known as Bu Ye Tian, â€œthe town that never sleeps.â€
Every Friday from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
Meet at Chinatown MRT Station,
Outside Exit A (Pagoda Street).
Price: SGD 25 per adult